Every week in Englewood, Sheridan and Denver, hundreds of students sit in class, turn in their work, walk out of their schools in the afternoon and return to a life of sleeping in shelters, cars or …
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This story is part of Colorado Community Media's third and final installment in a series, “No Place to Call Home,” which explores the reasons behind the rise in homelessness in Englewood and the response from various segments of the community.
To read more on how nonprofits, churches and city governments are responding — and to see the first two installments of the series — click here.
Every week in Englewood, Sheridan and Denver, hundreds of students sit in class, turn in their work, walk out of their schools in the afternoon and return to a life of sleeping in shelters, cars or motels.
Homelessness affects students’ education in so many ways, “it’s hard to say which is the biggest challenge,” said Becky Manning, Englewood Schools’ homelessness liaison, who works with families and students experiencing homelessness and those at risk of becoming homeless.
“In general, lack of stability can lead to social-emotional issues like anxiety, which can itself lead to non-attendance, which can lead to gaps in learning and achievement,” Manning said.
In Englewood Schools, 92 students fell under the district’s definition of homeless in March, though more than half are likely “doubled up” — sleeping at a family member’s or friend’s home, unable to afford their own housing. The 92 students make up about 4 percent of the district’s total 2,600 kids.
Denver Public Schools counted about 1,760 homeless students in the 2017-18 school year, or 2 percent of its 93,000 kids. More than half were doubled up, with about a quarter in shelters, 13 percent in hotels or motels, and 2 percent without shelter, meaning in places such as cars or outside.
That’s a decline from the district’s 10-year peak in 2015-16, when the count hit about 2,500 after years of steady increase.But the district said it’s not necessarily reason to celebrate.
“I do not believe this is due to a decline in the number of children experiencing homelessness, but many families are leaving Denver/DPS for more affordable housing,” said Anna Theisen, program manager for the DPS Homeless Education Network, the district’s office for assisting homeless students.
In the Sheridan School District, more than 300 students are homeless — 22 percent of the district’s roughly 1,400 students. That’s also Sheridan’s three-year average, the third-highest average rate of homeless students in the state, behind the Moffat and Mountain Valley districts in mountainous, southwest Colorado. In neighboring Englewood, it’s difficult to say whether more or fewer students are homeless in recent years because the district’s recording process has improved, said Kristy Koken, spokeswoman for Englewood Schools.
About three-fourths of the Sheridan district’s homeless are doubled up, according to district spokesman Mark Stevens. About 18 percent are in shelters or transitional housing, and the rest are nearly evenly split among unsheltered, unaccompanied, or in hotels or motels.
While the racial breakdown of homeless in the Sheridan district roughly mirrors the district’s overall demographics, differences are starker in Englewood, where black students make up 2 percent of the district and Native Americans make up 1 percent, but the groups constitute 16 percent of its homeless population — 8 percent each. Those patterns are similar in Denver, and white and Hispanic students represent a smaller proportion of the homeless counts than their proportion of the total student body in Englewood and Denver.
A need Englewood Schools deals with most frequently is for transportation but, sometimes, food and clothing are primary needs for families, Manning said.
All district staff participate in annual training on recognizing signs that a student or family may be experiencing homelessness, she added.
Sheridan’s district provides connections to district resources and outside help, such as to temporary housing or food banks, Stevens said. The district also can purchase school supplies, pay student fees and provide public transportation passes.
“Sheridan also has built partnerships to provide resources to throughout the year, such as food baskets, holiday toys and gifts, coats, supplies, medical and mental health services,” Stevens said.
Englewood Schools partners with the Tri-County Health Department — which serves Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties — along with Communities That Care, a national organization. Its local arm in the Englewood area is called South Platte Communities United, which works to address issues regarding youth substance use, housing, early childcare and employment.
The nonprofit Integrated Family Community Services, located near Sheridan, partners with Englewood Schools to provide school supplies, meals and other assistance for homeless families, Koken said.
DPS’ Homeless Education Network partners with The Salvation Army, community agencies and donors, and offers assistance with school supplies and backpacks, clothing, hygiene, and food and housing resources, along with many other services, according to the district.
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